Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to bolt the Republican party and switch his Presidential “candidacy” to a third party. News media are taking this typically blustery Trump proclamation seriously. Commentators are speculating about the possibility of Trump disrupting the two-party system. And Democrats are fantasizing about how a third-party run by Trump could split the Republican vote wide open and thus guarantee a win for the Democratic nominee.
A recent AP News article puts it this way:
To Republican pollster Frank Luntz, a third-party Trump campaign would mean, quite simply, “President Hillary Clinton.” Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, who is close to the Clinton campaign, agrees: “He’s the greatest gift we have.”
But to me, Trump’s threat is pure bunk.
I think that Trump has no intention of following through and mounting a third-party run. Why? The reason is quite simple: A third-party candidacy requires…work. And from what I’ve seen so far, Trump is more dedicated to self-aggrandizement and shock-jock rhetoric than he is in doing the in-the-trenches work necessary to getting on the ballot as a third-party candidate.
It takes a lot more than threats and verbal declarations to actually be a serious third-party candidate. First off, it’s expensive. In 1992, Ross Perot reportedly spent $64 million of his own fortune to get on state ballots as a third-party candidate. He managed to get an impressive 19 percent of the popular vote, but he didn’t win any states at all.
Today, a national third-party effort might cost in the range of $200 million to $500 million, say some observers. Would Donald Trump be willing to spend that much? That’s questionable, says longtime GOP donor Fred Malek:
He’s a businessman who will look at his potential for winning and decide it will be a poor return on his investment.
And then there’s the issue of how to get one’s name on the ballot in all 50 states, under the banner of a third party. This is where the real work comes in.
Ballot access laws vary widely from state to state, but most have one thing in common: According to Ballotpedia,
Political party candidates must identify with one state-recognized political party. In order to get on a ballot, they may have to follow additional rules set by that political party, but they will then have the support of a recognized group.
… Candidates can be placed on the ballot in a number of ways depending on the type of candidate and the state in which the candidate resides. Political party candidates can often gain ballot access by nomination through a convention or primary election. Independent candidates most often have to use the petition method, collecting a specified number of signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. Some states also require political party candidates to use this method.
It’s complicated and labor-intensive. Here’s what it takes to get on the ballot as an independent in each of the 50 states. And the first step would be for Trump to decide which party to represent, or whether to run as an unaffiliated candidate. He could, of course, try to create his own third party—The Trump Party? The Billionaire Party? The Me-Me-Me Party?—but that would be even more difficult, because states have rules for what constitutes a “recognized” political party. Ballotpedia notes that:
.. in some states, a party’s candidate for a specific office must win a certain percentage of the vote in order for the party to be ballot-qualified in the state. In other states, a political party must register a certain number of voters in order to achieve ballot status.
Which one would Trump choose? Here’s the array of existing, state-qualified political parties, and the number of states in which they’re qualified. Where would Trump fit in? And would any of them want him as their candidate?
To run as a third-party candidate, Trump might actually have to step away from center stage [which is where he really wants to be] for a while, invest in and supervise a huge staff that would fan out to all 50 states, and take the time to talk with third-party leaders about [gasp!] ideas and policies—things that have been almost entirely absent from his big-talk, narcissistic, insult-everyone, fear-mongering, worst-of-America campaign to date.
For all of these reasons, and although it pains me greatly to agree with [ugh] Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus, I just don’t think Trump is going to do it.